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Simon And Garfunkel: Many Happy Returns To 'Bridge Over Troubled Water'

Wednesday, 28 January 2015 Written by Graeme Marsh

Simon and Garfunkel’s 1970 collection, ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, is more than just a classic; it’s a milestone in the history of popular music. But one that came at a huge price.

As fate would have it, the album was to be the New York duo’s final offering, with an often tempestuous relationship, which began with the pair growing up together in Forest Hills, Queens, severed almost irreparably following its release.

One of the final wedges was driven not by music but by film, though, more specifically Art Garfunkel signing up for Mike Nichols’ adaptation of the Joseph Heller novel Catch 22. Paul Simon had initially been a part of the filmmakers' plans, with their relationship with Nichols stretching back to The Graduate, but was subsequently written out.

Garfunkel flew out to Mexico for a long shoot. Simon wrote. He found himself in a rich vein of form, bathed in post-Mrs Robinson light and high on confidence. Four songs, though, would eventually shape the album.

The Only Living Boy In New York, directly inspired by Garfunkel’s departure for Mexico, was one of those epics. The Tom Simon refers to is his bandmate, in a nod to their earliest days together as Tom & Jerry, while the majestic, multi-track vocal harmonies were laid down in an echo chamber at Columbia Records’ LA base.

“The vocal backgrounds on that are really good,” Simon told Grammy magazine’s Daniel J. Levitin in 1997. “I remember he [Garfunkel] was breathing differently than I was. He was, like, holding notes longer across the breathing lines. There was a difference in the rhythm of our breathing, and how long he was holding the notes. Anyway, that sound for some reason's really the best of that type of thing. I have a lot of records that have vocal groups in them that are my voice or my voice and somebody else's voice. They're all about imitating doo-wop sounds which have falsettos in them”.

In a 1984 Playboy interview, Simon told of how another of the album’s monster quartet - The Boxer - came into being prior to the rest of the album being written.

“I think the song was about me,” he said. “Everybody’s beating me up and I’m telling you now I’m going to go away if you don’t stop. By that time we had encountered our first criticism. For the first few years, it was just pure praise. It took two or three years for people to realise that we weren’t strange creatures that emerged from England but just two guys from Queens who used to sing rock ’n’ roll. And maybe we weren’t real folkies at all! Maybe we weren’t even hippies!”

It was a complicated one to record, and guided by the band’s long-time producer Roy Halee. Its drum smashes were laid down in front of a lift at Columbia Records, its iconic chorus in St. Paul’s Chapel at Columbia University.

Cecilia is another of the big hitters. Written during a stay at a house on Blue Jay Way in the Hollywood Hills, its idiosyncratic rhythm was drummed up between a piano bench and slapped thighs and recorded on a cheap Sony tape machine. It stuck with Simon.

“We were all pounding away and playing things,” he told Jon Landau of Rolling Stone back in 1972. “That was all it was. Tink a tong tink a tink a tong tuck a tuck a toong tuck a...on a Sony, and I said: ‘That's a great rhythm set, I love it.’ Every day I'd come back from the studio, working on whatever we were working on, and I'd play this pounding thing. So then I said: ‘Let's make a record out of that.’

“So we copied it over and extended it double the amount, so now we have three minutes of track, and the track is great. So now I pick up the guitar and I start to go: ‘Well, this will be like the guitar part dung chicka dung chicka dung’. And lyrics were virtually the first lines I said: ‘You're breakin' my heart, I'm down on my knees.’ They're not lines at all, but it was right for that song, and I like that. It was like a little piece of magical fluff, but it works.”

Like many of the famous tracks here, Cecilia has been reinterpreted by its fair share of artists - including Suggs of Madness - but its total is a long way shy of the title track, which remains one of the most covered songs of all time. It is a stunning piece of music that, defying cliche, really never grows old. As Garfunkel himself has said: “The whole damn song is a gem.”

It’s also one that Simon has admitted came from nowhere. Inspired by gospel - particularly the Swan Silvertones - it tapped into a vein of uncertainty and mounting unease as America tipped over into the ‘70s.

Charles Grodin’s 1969 television special - Songs of America - had made the duo political figures, not to mention hate mail addressees of choice for the right, and the song’s beautiful melancholy captured the struggle of so many Americans, amid the Civil Rights movement and as the Vietnam war ground on, to be heard and understood.

In Songs of America, one exchange lingers, even if it’s intended partly in jest. Garfunkel, responding to an anecdote about Beethoven, says: “Somebody else’s 200th birthday is coming up in not so long...America’s.” Simon deadpans: “Think it’s gonna make it?” While Elvis Presley’s version of the song is a standout to many, Simon perhaps fittingly favoured Aretha Franklin’s.

With the pair also revisiting their earliest influences by covering the Everly Brothers’ Bye Bye Love and tackling a Peruvian standard, El Cóndor Pasa, that bewitched Simon, the album is more than just the sum of those four great songs. It’s a defining statement from artists with no shortage of them to pick from.

Whether or not the duo will ever perform the legendary album again – in full or in part – remains in doubt for the time being, but for now, as we pass its 45th anniversary, there’s just one thing to say: many happy returns, ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’.

Art Garfunkel Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Tue March 10 2015 - DUBLIN Vicar Street
Wed September 16 2015 - LIVERPOOL Liverpool Philharmonic Hall
Thu September 17 2015 - CARDIFF St David's Hall
Sat September 19 2015 - OXFORD New Theatre Oxford
Mon September 21 2015 - LONDON Royal Albert Hall
Wed September 23 2015 - GATESHEAD Sage
Thu September 24 2015 - EDINBURGH Usher Hall

Click here to compare & buy Art Garfunkel Tickets at Stereoboard.com.



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